'Profoundly sinister': China hits British MPs and groups with sanctions

26 March 2021, 11:21 | Updated: 26 March 2021, 16:45

Iain Duncan Smith is among those targeted by China's sanctions over Uighur Muslims.
Iain Duncan Smith is among those targeted by China's sanctions over Uighur Muslims. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

China has sanctioned MPs and British groups over their reaction to the "gross human rights violations" against Uighur Muslims.

Boris Johnson said he stands with those hit by sanctions, which includes former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, in a move described as two of its targets as "profoundly sinister".

It follows a package of travel bans and asset freezes on four senior officials in a state-run organisation.

They were announced by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Monday when he described the abuse in Xinjiang province as "one of the worst human rights crises of our time".

Following China's tit-for-tat sanctions, the Prime Minister said on Friday: "The MPs and other British citizens sanctioned by China today are performing a vital role shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uighur Muslims.

"Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them."

Mr Duncan Smith is joined by Tory MPs Neil O'Brien, Tim Loughton and Nusrat Ghani, Labour's Baroness Helena Kennedy, Lord David Alton, barrister Geoffrey Nice, who is leading a tribunal on the treatment of Uighur Muslims, academic Joanne Smith Finley, and chairman of the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat.

The groups were the China Research Group, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Uighur Tribunal and Essex Court Chambers.

Those targeted, and their family members, are banned from entering China, Hong Kong and Macao, any property they have in China will be frozen, and Chinese citizens and institutions will be banned from doing business with them.

Read more: Uighur activist reads harrowing first-hand testimony of Chinese "reeducation camps"

Mr Tugendhat said it was an attempt to silence MPs and branded it a "direct assault of British democracy and our sovereignty".

Along with Mr O’Brien, he released a statement through the China Research Group that said the sanctions were an attempt to "distract from the international condemnation of Beijing's increasingly grave human rights violations against the Uighurs".

"It is tempting to laugh off this measure as a diplomatic tantrum. But in reality it is profoundly sinister and just serves as a clear demonstration of many of the concerns we have been raising about the direction of China under Xi Jinping."

Tom Tugendhat has criticised the sanctions as "profoundly sinister".
Tom Tugendhat has criticised the sanctions as "profoundly sinister". Picture: PA

Ms Ghani said being sanctioned was a "badge of honour" while Ms Smith Finley, Reader in Chinese Studies at Newcastle University, said: "I have no regrets for speaking out, and I will not be silenced."

The US, the EU and Canada also implemented sanctions on Monday.

China’s foreign ministry said the UK’s sanctions, levied against the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau, were "based on nothing but lies and disinformation, flagrantly breaches international law… and severely undermines China-UK relations".

Tory backbenchers have tried to toughen the Government’s stance on China over the issue.

Some MPs want to prevent trade deals being agreed with countries deemed to be involved in genocide.

in a joint statement, five of the sanctioned parliamentarians said they would "continue to advocate" on the behalf of groups oppressed by the Chinese regime.

"Today's sanctions have unmasked the Chinese Communist Party," said former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain, ex-ministers Ms Ghani and Mr Loughton, and the two peers.

"These actions are not only an attack on us as individuals but an attempt to stifle the free and open debate that is at the heart of our parliamentary democracy.

"Intimidation will only serve to encourage us to redouble our efforts.

"We will continue to advocate on behalf of the Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers and all other persecuted groups in China.

"These are the true victims of the Chinese government's authoritarian rule, not us."